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On Brockhampton’s ‘Iridescence’

September 28, 2018

My 17th birthday was on a Friday. I woke up to some lovely cards from my family, happy birthday messages from friends and a couple posts on Facebook. I went to school. Around early afternoon, an hour or so before classes let out, I received a text from a friend of mine: “Dude listen to this shit now, it’s insane.” I went into the bathroom, turned my earbuds up, and listened to “HEAT” by Brockhampton (which I soon discovered had no relationship to the Hamptons), off of an album called SATURATION. All the songs were in caps and four letters long. I had no idea what I was about to listen to. It absolutely blew my mind and kickstarted my love for the sprawling, ambitious, raw collective of artists. Brockhampton ended up dominating the music scene of 2017, dropping three stellar albums between June and December, while widely expanding the concept of what hip hop should discuss, sound like or be defined by. They went from a blip on the radar to a revolution within a matter of months.

Almost a full year since SATURATION came out, Brockhampton was faced with a brutal reckoning. Ameer Vann, a member of the group and widely considered to be its best rapper, was accused of sexual assault. The ensuing controversy split the fan base in half. The allegations against Vann were bad, but some fans argued that it wasn’t enough to justify exiling him. After a few half apologies and non -answers, the band released a statement that Vann was officially out, and that their upcoming album, PUPPY, was indefinitely postponed. Brockhampton’s future was thrown up in the air, and the members retreated to Hawaii and then to London in order to regroup from the media fallout as well as to record their new project. After dropping three singles over the summer and announcing upcoming concert dates, the band announced an untitled album to be released this September. That album is “Iridescence,” and it dropped on September 21.

As a fan of the SATURATION trilogy, the first thing I noticed about Iridescence is its differences from the music Brockhampton released last year. The starkest distinction is the production of the album. The beats are fuller, have a cleaner mix and feature far more variation than those on the SATURATION trilogy. The album incorporates string sections on multiple songs, which are done tastefully and beautifully, bringing to mind a “Late Registration” era Kanye West. Brockhampton was formed over a Kanye reddit forum, so it makes sense that his influence is worn on their sleeves. On “SAN MARCOS,” a ballad on the second half of the album, the beat is based around an acoustic guitar part, a major departure from anything else the band has recorded. It’s clear that BROCKHAMPTON is using their new record deal with RCA and recording budget (“Iridescence” was recorded at Abbey Road Studio in London whereas the SATURATION trilogy was recorded at the group’s home in Los Angeles), to its fullest extent.

Another massive difference between this album and previous ones is the role that each of the rappers and singers play on each track. Vann’s departure of seemingly left a vacuum within Brockhampton’s sound, as Vann arguably had the most consistent verses on their prior albums, but his presence was not missed. Dom McLennon and Matt Champion, who undoubtedly had standout verses on the SATURATION trilogy but never shined as brightly as Vann, brought absolutely filthy verses on every Iridescence track they were on. McLennon’s verse on “HONEY” stands out to me as the best on the entire album, sounding like a cross between Q-Tip and Andre 3000 in the absolute best way. Merlyn Wood, a member who was mostly known for his high energy unpredictability on the SATURATION trilogy, had a few more laid back verses on “Iridescence,” and it suited him brilliantly. His lines rode each beat effortlessly, and were constantly impressive.

The artist that disappointed me the most was Joba. Joba has a tendency to be a wildcard on any song he’s on, proving his unbelievable talents as a vocalist on songs like “FACE,” or his in-your-face energy on songs like “HEAT.” The issue with Joba, is that he decides to use all of his vocal inflections—all at once. It sounds gimmicky at times and is downright irritating on occasion. When I reached the last half of the album, I found myself hoping he wasn’t on a track because of how exhausting it was to hear all of his different voices. It was like listening to Eminem, in the worst possible way.

Brockhampton is a boyband (they’re strict on the terminology) comprised of a multitude of massively talented musicians. When their chemistry as vocalists and rappers clicks with the outstanding production, there’s no stopping them. Their creativity will continue to shape music for years down the road.

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